How would you personally define patriotism?

Working papers

The term patriotism has gotten into the talk. Populist and right-wing groups, "PEGIDA" for example, have taken possession of the term and associate it with a rejection of refugees or an openly xenophobic attitude. With the connection to the Monday demonstrations and the cry “We are the people”, such groups use slogans and symbols of the peaceful revolution without scruples or refer to the Christian religion.

Occasionally one can observe a reluctance to use the term patriot for oneself, because one does not want to enter a society of people who cannot or do not want to differentiate between patriotism and nationalism or chauvinism. We Germans also find it difficult to make a careless commitment to our state, because our history is a broken history, because National Socialism and the Holocaust are part of this history, because we have a period of division behind us, because we remember what was before , because the term patriotism was criminally misused in our history, for example by National Socialism, and used as a vehicle for spreading National Socialist doctrine.

Since 1990 we have had an all-German parliament that emerged from free elections, we have a federal system throughout Germany, we live under a legal system and under a constitution, the Basic Law. So it makes sense to ask what actually holds us together, what makes serving in a democratic state, in our democratic state, how we as citizens live together in a united Germany, a state that should and wants to exercise its role in the world.

This consideration is based on a definition of patriotism that a then well-known theologian, scholar and poet Michael Richey, member of the "Patriotic Society", used in the "moral" magazine "Der Patriot" in Hamburg in 1724. He formulated that a patriot is a person "who is really serious about the best of his fatherland, someone who is eager to serve the common being honestly". In 1742 he referred to a patriot as a “city friend” and possibly had the Bible, Jeremiah 29 V 7, with the request “Seek the city's best” in mind.

Johann Moritz Gericke formulated in 1782 that “patriotism is that strong inner drive that has the best of the state as its focus and seeks to promote its welfare in all possible ways.” From here to John F. Kennedy's request “Don't ask what Your country can do for you, but rather asks what you can do for your country “it is only a short way.

The then Federal President Johannes Rau made a clear distinction between patriotism and nationalism in a speech in 1999: “I never want to be a nationalist,” he said, “but I am a patriot. A patriot is someone who loves his homeland, a nationalist is someone who despises other people's homelands. But we want to be a people of good neighbors, in Europe and in the world. "

After his election to the Federal Assembly, the former Federal President Horst Köhler not only said the well-known sentence: “I love our country”, but also stated in the same speech: “Patriotism and cosmopolitanism are not opposites, they are mutually dependent. Only those who respect themselves also respect others. "

Richard Schröder expressed it completely unpathetically in his book “Einsprüche und Zusprüche”: “I like to be German” and “even now I think the fall of the wall is madness”. In the foreword to this book, he called for the nation not to be left to the wrong people.

So we can be patriots and love our fatherland. This enables us in the same way to meet other peoples and people with respect and respect from this steadfast position. We can and will have many different opinions on current political issues. But we should be patriots, not nationalists. Nobody should disparage fatherlands from others or despise people because of their otherness. On the contrary, love for our country makes us ready and able to respect and respect others.

So what does it mean from my point of view to be a German patriot, to live as a German patriot?

Live in freedom

We are grateful for the freedom that was given to all Germans through unification. We live freedom. We know that democracy is dependent not only on the creative power of the elected politicians, but equally on the cooperation and motivation of the citizens.

We can now better assess the totally different system of bondage experienced in the GDR, a system that teased, punished and rewarded, cared for and monitored, slowed down and controlled its citizens, but in any case almost exclusively based on the attitude towards the system and measured their usefulness for the system. In this system, too, one could find niches of halfway satisfactory personal life, at least partially evade the demands of the state. But you could hardly develop yourself according to your personal inclinations and abilities.

We should always keep an eye on the fundamental difference between freedom and bondage, even if now and then in nostalgic memories the past is still or even increasingly transfigured.

Live the unity

26 years have passed since the peaceful unification of our country. Those who said at the time that the road to Inner Unity would be long and arduous were right. The current discussion, the report of the Federal Government, the events on the occasion of the Day of German Unity in Dresden show that there are obviously clear differences between East and West in terms of mentality. Xenophobia and susceptibility to simple slogans seem to be more pronounced in the new countries than in the old. The adjustment of living conditions is taking longer than initially expected.

But we must not overlook the fact that we were and are allowed to experience strong light signals. There are really blooming landscapes, the economic situation in the new federal states has improved significantly, and unemployment has fallen. In addition to the solidarity pact, we saw all-German solidarity in the hours of need to an extent that surprised us all. I am thinking above all of the flood disasters on the Oder and Elbe. In addition to providing concrete assistance, human bonds have also developed that benefit all of us. The number of people who allow themselves to be approached to help and act is, as the last few months have shown, also high in the new federal states, at least much higher than that of the demonstrating pseudo-patriots.

The efforts and setbacks should not prevent us from continuing to be proud that we Germans have succeeded in a peaceful revolution, that the people in today's new countries brought about this revolution themselves through their determined and prudent behavior and are grateful for it that we can live together today in a free Germany.

As citizens, soldiers were allowed and are allowed to help ensure that German unity succeeds. The unity of the troops promotes the unity of the Germans, said the then Federal President Richard von Weizäcker in the spring of 1991 at a command meeting of the Bundeswehr Command East and he was right. What happened in the first years after unification in the Bundeswehr is a great achievement not only in the history of the Bundeswehr, but also firmly in German history.

In any case, we must not be discouraged and want to make our own contribution to making further progress on the way to "inner unity". The often silent majority has to articulate itself more clearly, we soldiers should lead the way.

Take responsibility

Freedom is a gift that obliges. It's not just about freedom from coercion and attachment or the freedom to travel. Rather, it is about a positive understanding of freedom, about the freedom to shape and engage, the freedom to help shape our state and its organizations, it is about the freedom to show citizenship and to participate creatively.

This makes it clear that safeguarding and shaping freedom requires personal contributions and, if necessary, sacrifices. Since the state no longer demands such personal contributions, at least in the form of compulsory services, it will be all the more important that they are made voluntarily. Gratitude for the gift of freedom and the will and determination to shape it should therefore go hand in hand with an effort to make personal contributions and to counter emptiness and lack of content everywhere. That is why we are committed to our task and - wherever possible - also to the well-being of our country.

Assuming responsibility also has a foreign policy aspect. The restoration of German unity was an important step towards the unity of Europe. The Federal Republic could and cannot claim a special role. Like others, our country is jointly responsible for peace and freedom not only in Europe and cannot and does not want to evade this responsibility. This demanded and still requires contributions to be made across the spectrum of possible measures for the preservation of peace, for the protection or restoration of human rights. This can and will always include military contributions to crisis management.

The restriction to the military aspects would, however, be an impermissible narrowing. Assuming global responsibility and German development aid are just as much a part of it as the emergency aid from the Federal Foreign Office or the work of many organizations and people in the emergency areas of the world.

In any case, serving in a democratic state means knowing that living in freedom means taking responsibility both internally and externally. We have suffered several times to experience how far this can go for soldiers. As far as we can, we participate in the fulfillment of the global responsibility that our state has to assume.

For us, taking responsibility also means being able and willing to assess complex issues in a differentiated manner, to discuss and argue differently. Factual problems must be objectively discussed and ultimately resolved objectively. There can and will be different opinions and approaches, and compromises will often have to be laboriously sought. This should then also be represented publicly in order to counter the spreading of simplistic populist slogans. We shouldn't shy away from discussing this and should be more active in dealing with the “simplifiers”.

Taking responsibility under the sign of human dignity

The perception of responsibility in our state needs a point of reference. Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI., Wrote the following in a book “Truth, Values, Power” about the connections between freedom and its content: “Freedom only retains its dignity if it is based on its moral ground and on its moral mandate remains related. A freedom whose sole content is the possibility of the satisfaction of needs would not be human freedom; it would remain in the realm of the animal. Freedom needs a common content that we can define as the safeguarding of human rights. "

Living in responsible freedom therefore needs an anchor and a point of reference. This reference point can be found in the Basic Law. In our Basic Law, human dignity is at the top; according to Article 1, respecting and protecting it is the top priority of all state power. This fundamental right cannot be changed or restricted. In our system of values, human dignity is at the top, it is not tied to belonging to a certain origin, race or skin color, it includes all people. So we are committed to all the citizens of our country. This makes it clear that there is no room for extremism or xenophobia with us. In the same way, it becomes clear that we must demand that everyone who lives in our country respect our constitution and the values ​​on which it is based.

Protection and preservation of human dignity, that's what it's all about!

Pay attention to the roots, practice cohesion

Now the constitution is certainly not the only thing that unites us. It shows the agreement in the fundamental questions of values. But national identity certainly also has something to do with a common language, history and common memory. It has to be seen far beyond one's own generation.

To be patriot means to stand firmly in the roots that the constitution shows us. It has only been in force for itself since 1949. However, it is fed by numerous experiences in our history and implemented in principles that have proven themselves in many ways, most recently at the unification in 1990. On the other hand, being a patriot also means being conscious of our history, in all that it has brought us, good and bad, in success and failure. To stand in this story also means to acknowledge that there have been different biographies in divided Germany, but that they will have the same value for the future.

Common national identity is not static. It grows in coexistence and in shared experiences and points to the future from the past and the present. There is no standstill. With the integration of many people from cultures that are alien to us, we have a huge task ahead of us. They all bring their own story and experience with them. You should respect the roots on which our state rests. You must respect our constitution and laws. If you do so, you are invited to help develop our community.

As patriots, we should help from a firm stand to maintain the cohesion of the people in our country even in the face of change.

Hans-Peter von Kirchbach was Inspector General of the Bundeswehr from 1999 to 2000 and President of the German Johanniter Accident Aid from 2002 to 2013. The author gives his personal opinion.

Copyright: Federal Academy for Security Policy | ISSN 2366-0805 page 1/5